17 September 2007

Under the scanner

It’s common knowledge to advertisers and marketers that purchase decisions are made in the consumer’s mind. Whoever understands and controls the human mind is likely to own a fair share of the market – if not dominate the market entirely – with products and brands satisfying a plethora of human needs and wants. Not to mention increasing profitability in one’s business.

However, the human mind is complex. Understanding it is easily said than done. Traditional methods of consumer research using focus groups no longer seem to work as (and this, too, is common knowledge to advertisers and marketers) consumers are not always truthful in communicating their needs, wants and responses to advertising and marketing messages.

To complicate matters, consumers themselves are not always aware of their needs and wants – at least, to the extent of (not) being able to express themselves clearly. That’s because much of our desires are hidden in our subconscious mind.

With millions of brands competing with each other to capture consumer mind-space every day, exploring the consumer’s subconscious mind in order to seek out explicit brand preference and purchase triggers has now become critical to the advertising and marketing industries. The answer, many advertisers, marketers and social scientists feel, lies in understanding human emotional responses to advertising/marketing messages.

To this end, traditional techniques like focus groups don’t quite cut it; though in-depth one-on-one interviews, response latency measures, metaphor elicitation techniques, eye-movement tracking, or simply watching consumer behaviour through (hidden) video recorders have generated substantial information on consumers to advertisers and marketers. Unfortunately, behaviour studies of this nature are still unable to accurately identify consumer choice triggers.

That’s where neuromarketing comes in – with its promise of showing (i.e. capturing visual data in colourful graphics) how brands and their various components, including advertising messages, can have emotional impact in a consumer’s mind. Just how much impact the brand has is probably still difficult to measure, but neuromarketers are pretty confident of tracking emotional impact by showing ‘increased activity’ in the brain when the brain is under stimulation.

Apart from a compliant consumer who doesn’t mind being put under the scanner while lying prone without the freedom to move about and evaluate brands and options as a consumer does in real life, the technique relies heavily on expensive technology that scans the brain (or checks the body temperature and the pulse rate) at the instant the consumer is exposed to a specific advertising/marketing message.

Of course, it is difficult to assess if an ‘increased activity’ in the brain results in a consumer’s preference for a specific brand, and a brand purchase thereafter, but neuromarketers are certain that this, too, will be determined soon.


Madhuri said...

I have been following your thread for sometime, and I think neuromarketing may have some promise. However, I think the concept of 'Marketing' is slightly overrated. I think most of the task of sales building is done by 'Informing' rather than coming up with innovative advertisements. I have loved many ads, but that has not induced me to buy those products - especially when it comes to the high involvement products. Even in the low involvement products, you don't remember most ads when you are standing in the supermarket. SHelf space, visibility and the planogram then become the primary drivers for sale. Don't you think?

runawaysun said...

Neuromarketing is merely a tool in the marketer’s toolkit. Whether it is promising or not is difficult to say at the moment as neuromarketing success stories aren’t many. Not many marketers use it as it is an expensive proposition. Those who use it keep their findings close to their chest. To my knowledge, neuromarketing is yet to be used in India.

At a personal level, I’m not in favour of neuromarketing. I feel it is invasive. I also feel it cannot determine consumer purchases as many more elements/parameters come into play in the consumer decision-making and buying processes.

Marketing tries to find a path to the consumer’s mind – specifically to identify consumer desires and (for lack of a better word) ‘excite’ these desires in order to drive the consumer to opt for a specific brand within a cluster of brand choices. Thereafter, marketing tries to place that specific brand within the consumer’s reach – through appropriate placement, pricing, packaging and shopping experience.

Marketing continues its efforts to provide a (once again, for lack of a better word) ‘happy’ experience from the brand’s application and usage… and performance. This, sometimes, takes time – for instance in checking an attribute like durability, or in collecting post-purchase reassurance from peer/reference groups, or in building consumer confidence and self-esteem, or simply in calculating the economics of the purchase over the long run.

So, I consider marketing to be far greater than mere advertising or ‘informing’ consumers. In my mind, marketing is a socio-economic science – and, therefore, it can get as complex as any social science or economics is. Marketing is not just about ads and brands. Marketing is about people. And, as you know, people are not always easy to handle.

Is marketing ‘slightly overrated’? No. But, some people working in marketing certainly are. [You should have guessed that from reading this comment. ;-)]